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Behind the Headlines: Our World Could End, Just Not in One Day

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Behind the Headlines: The social causes in current events.
In a unique take on daily news hits, Free The Children founders Craig and Marc Kielburger go behind the headlines to explore how the stories you read are connected to the causes you care about. You'll never read the news in the same way again.

The headline that caught our attention: "Rogue planets, ancient civilizations and the end of the world."

The end is nigh. The signs are everywhere. The Twinkie is nearing extinction; Oxford English Dictionary proclaimed "GIF" a word of the year; Ann Coulter released another book; Australia's Prime Minister just delivered a deadpan video message warning of a zombie invasion.

These are dark times.

Conspiracy theorists say the world will actually end on the darkest day, the winter solstice, December 21, 2012. So, like, next week, we could be toast.

Predictions, drawn from misinterpretations of ancient cultures and celestial alignments, involve a rogue planet and the "end of the world," to be interpreted variously as Earth's destruction or a "renewal of consciousness."As NASA explains on their website, this particular doomsday myth began with a planet discovered by ancient Sumerians that the Space Administration claims no record of called Nibiru or Planet X, which was first set to collide with Earth in the spring of 2003. But when nothing happened the apocalypse was rescheduled and has since been fused with the "end" of the Mayan long count calendar, the Gregorian equivalent of Dec 21, 2012.

Scholars have noted that the ancient Maya didn't interpret the long count calendar's end as the end; another long count calendar will begin. But not everyone reads the fine print.

Scientist David Morrison has been inundated with questions on his "Ask an Astrobiologist" webpage about the logistics of doomsday and the optimal time to euthanize pets; NASA had to take the hysteria seriously enough to post an FAQ on their website. Here's a sampling:

"Is NASA predicting a 'total blackout' of Earth on Dec. 23 to Dec. 25?"

"Is there [a planet] approaching Earth and threatening our planet with widespread destruction?"

Official responses are variations of: no, of course not. But these are real questions directed at NASA -- with frequency. They represent a genuinely disconcerting worldview for many reasons, one of which is the implication that humanity bears no responsibility for the fate of the world.

Let's assume that the world will remain intact for a little while longer. And let's assume that our behaviour might shorten or prolong its lifespan.

There are a number of ways in which the world as we know it could end, not with a bang or with a whimper. Given our propensity for unsustainable consumption, it will most likely be at the hands of humankind: methane gas emissions from melting permafrost, a global food crisis or the ensuing riots, fresh water shortages, ozone depletion or carbon clouds trapped in the atmosphere.

Real threats to our existence are decidedly less sexy than a rogue planet's collision course with Earth or the appropriation of ancient cultures to fuel conspiracy theories. Apocalyptic fiction is much more entertaining -- who wants to watch a multi-million dollar Michael Bay blockbuster about slowly reversing the effects of permafrost methane emissions?

We prefer our problems to have archetypal, mythic narratives attached to them. We prefer our solutions to be beyond control of the average person but just within reach of a motley crew of space scientists. If it can't be solved with 90 minutes of explosions and dubious plot lines, it's just too troublesome and overwhelming to fret over in our daily lives.

There are no quick fixes for Earth's actual predicament.

But like any problem worthy of consideration, doomsday can be solved with mass consumerism. The apocalypse has a niche market, with retailers hawking underground bunkers and, absurdly, "End of the World Survival Guides". Because no one wants to be caught in the middle of an apocalypse without a three-month supply of freeze-dried food.

If that fails, we still have time to assemble a dream team.

Needed: an attractive, female astrophysicist with a South African accent to wear heels while running from space debris; an unsociable NASA scientist; a civilian, probably a bearded David Duchovny who's been right all along; an ex-US Marine to begrudgingly take on one last mission before retirement. Your assignment: build one of those rockets to collide with the planet moments before it destroys Earth, sending its fiery fragments splashing into the ocean.

Help make 2012 the year the world didn't end

The Kyoto Protocol (from which Canada withdrew) is set to expire this month, just 10 days after doomsday. What better time to start lobbying governments or industrialists for emissions reductions and other policies or products that actually tackle global warming?

At home, the holiday season is as good a time as any to consider our wasteful habits. String up LED lights, the most energy-efficient of the luminous decor options. Wrap presents in recycled paper and make your own gifts if you can manage it. Encourage children to donate one of their presents to a toy bank rather than buy more gifts for donation. And everywhere possible, purchase environmentally friendly, sustainably-made products.

We promise: Christmas is still coming this year.

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Craig and Marc Kielburger are founders of international charity and educational partner, Free The Children. Its youth empowerment event, We Day, is in eight cities across Canada this year, inspiring more than 100,000 attendees. For more information, visit www.weday.com